Jan. 31, 2007 (CWNews.com) - The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church has criticized the Patriarchate of Constantinople for accepting the affiliation of Orthodox bodies which, in effect, compete with established Orthodox churches in other countries. Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens made his comments in response to the decision by the Constantinople patriarchate to welcome Bishop Basil Osborn, who had been the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain. By accepting the affiliation of Bishop Basil-- who has been excommunicated by the Moscow patriarchate-- the Ecumenical Patriarchate is creating a “dangerous divisive situation,” the Greek archbishop said.
I am sympathetic to both camps. I understand the need for fraternity among Christians, even extended to those excommunicated, but on the other hand, what's the point of excommunication if it only results in a splinter church whose leader has not reconciled with the Church? Would he not lead his flock to ruin? At the same time, there is this practical problem that Christians outside the Catholic Church truly must deal with: in the absence of a single arbiter, how is excommunication of any use? Excommunication is not a consignment to hell, as people often mistake it to be, but a means of effecting repentance and reconciliation -- exactly as the Lord taught to those who go astray (Matthew 18). But excommunication is worth nothing without the concept of a bottom-level foundation for the authority to excommunicate. This authority was given, of course, to the Apostles, and the Orthodox patriarchs are certainly exercising their authority in the cited report. But what if it is a clash between patriarch and patriarch? Bishop and bishop? If an excommunicated bishop or patriarch were to up and take along with him his own flock, then who is the highest administrative arbiter?
Well, of course I was going to say the Successor of St. Peter, who was given the particular role of holding the keys of the kingdom in Matthew 16, for binding and loosing on earth as in Heaven! If not the Pope, then who else? If not anyone, then what's the point in the Lord even mentioning excommunication?